AUGUSTINIAN CANONS, a religious order in the Roman Catholic Church, called also Austin Canons, Canons Regular, and in England Black Canons, because their cassock and mantle were black, though they wore a white surplice: elsewhere the colour of the habit varied considerably.
The canons regular (see Canon) grew out of the earlier institute of canonical life, in consequence of the urgent exhortations of the Lateran Synod of 1059. The clergy of some cathedrals (in England, Carlisle), and of a great number of collegiate churches all over western Europe, responded to the appeal; and the need of a rule of life suited to the new regime produced, towards the end of the 11th century, the so-called Rule of St Augustine (see Augustinians). This Rule was widely adopted by the canons regular, who also began to bind themselves by the vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. In the 12th century this discipline became universal among them; and so arose the order of Augustinian canons as a religious order in the strict sense of the word. They resembled the monks in so far as they lived in community and took religious vows; but their state of life remained essentially clerical, and as clerics their duty was to undertake the pastoral care and serve the parish churches in their patronage. They were bound to the choral celebration of the divine office, and in its general tenor their manner of life differed little from that of monks.
Their houses, at first without bonds between them, soon tended to draw together and coalesce into congregations with corporate organization and codes of constitutions supplementary to the Rule. The popes encouraged these centralizing tendencies; and in 1339 Benedict XII. organized the Augustinian canons on the same general lines as those laid down for the Benedictines, by a system of provincial chapters and visitations.
Some thirty congregations of canons regular of St Augustine are numbered. The most important were: (1) the Lateran canons, formed soon after the synod of 1059, by the clergy of the Lateran Basilica; (2) Congregation of St Victor in Paris, c. 1100, remarkable for the theological and mystical school of Hugh, Richard and Adam of St Victor; (3) Gilbertines (see Gilbert of Sempringham, St); (4) Windesheim Congregation, c. 1400, in the Netherlands and over north and central Germany (see Groot, Gerhard), to which belonged Thomas à Kempis; (5) Congregation of Ste Geneviève in Paris, a reform c. 1630. During the later middle ages the houses of these various congregations of canons regular spread all over Europe and became extraordinarily numerous. They underwent the natural and inevitable vicissitudes of all orders, having their periods of depression and degeneracy, and again of revival and reform. The book of Johann Busch, himself a canon of Windesheim, De Reformatione monasteriorum, shows that in the 15th century grave relaxation had crept into many monasteries of Augustinian canons in north Germany, and the efforts at reform were only partially successful. The Reformation, the religious wars and the Revolution have swept away nearly all the canons regular, but some of their houses in Austria still exist in their medieval splendour. In England there were as many as 200 houses of Augustinian canons, and 60 of them were among the “greater monasteries” suppressed in 1538–1540 (for list see Tables in F. A. Gasquet’s English Monastic Life). The first foundation was Holy Trinity, Aldgate, by Queen Maud, in 1108; Carlisle was an English cathedral of Augustinian canons. In Ireland the order was even more numerous, Christ Church, Dublin, being one of their houses. Three houses of the Lateran canons were established in England towards the close of the 19th century. Most of the congregations of Augustinian canons had convents of nuns, called canonesses; many such exist to this day.
See the works of Amort and Du Molinet, mentioned under Canon. Vol. ii. of Helyot’s Hist. des ordres religieux (1792) is devoted to canons regular of all kinds. The information is epitomized by Max Heimbucher, Orden und Kongregationen, i. (1896), §§ 54-60, where copious references to the literature of the subject are supplied. See also Otto Zöckler, Askese und Mönchtum, ii. (1897), p. 422; and Wetzer und Welte, Kirchenlexicon (2nd ed.), art. “Canonici Regulares” and “Canonissae.” For England see J. W. Clark, Observances in use at the Augustinian Priory at Barnwell (1897); and an article in Journal of Theological Studies (v.) by Scott Holmes. (E. C. B.)